Juno’s planned suicide is the craziest part of the super crazy Jupiter mission

A crazy Juno mission to Jupiter

The Juno space mission to Jupiter is NASA’s most sophisticated project yet. Way more complex than the moon landing or the ISS. The stuff is beyond science fiction. Juno just traveled 5 years and over 1.5 billion miles and entered Jupiter’s orbit at pretty much the exact location where scientists had predicted. This makes me feel sorry for myself on multiple fronts – for having spent countless hours in a biology lab doing stuff not nearly as cool. And also for having trouble reaching my intended destination a few miles away while driving.

NASA rendering
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

 

But I digress. The craziest part of the Juno mission is its eventual suicide. After orbiting for two years and transmitting valuable information on all things Jupiter, Juno is programmed to crash into the planet and kill itself. The reason? It should avoid crashing into Europa by accident – Jupiter’s moon whose physical conditions makes it a prime candidate for hosting extra-terrestrial life.

Scientists are concerned that Juno has several earthian microbes, probably viruses, which have hitchhiked and made it to Jupiter. And that they might harm potential existing life forms on Europa.

Wait, what? Before my head explodes. There might be extra-terrestrial life in our solar system? And there are viruses that can travel billions of miles through space and survive?

And if that were true, would we WANT to send out a bunch of viruses to different corners of the universe to spread life around? Can we play god?

Reminds me of a thesis I was reading which postulated that viruses evolved before other life forms and “invented” host bodies as their food and reproductive medium. Brangelina may be cool. But they don’t have anything on viruses.

At the intersection of science and philosophy lie viruses. And Europa.

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